Blend of technology and the African sun to solve water purification problems
Take an African scientist and an African engineer and ask them to find a solution to water-borne problems that impact on 783 million people, and cause 443 million ‘lost school days a year’ due to disease. Chances are that they will come up with a solution to provide Africans with safe, healthy drinking water.
For Dr Lloyd Muzangwa, a Zimbabwean scientist, and his friend George Kahabuka, a Tanzanian engineer, knowledge is something that has to be shared with others.
“Life does not measure you on the basis of your credentials, but on the results you deliver,” they explain. This philosophy formed the basis of their entry into the recent Standard Bank Water 4 Africa challenge. Dr Muzangwa’s and Kahabuka’s submission was announced as the winner of the ‘Mid-stage’ (tested solutions, ready for first deployment) category of the competition, which saw them walking away with a prize of US$5,000 for the development of their MAJI 1200 water purification system.
The category was one of three that saw inventors from around the globe competing for the honours for their innovative work in developing water solutions that could be implemented across the African continent.
Winners in other categories were:
· Late stage (deployed solutions, ready for scale) – a single prize of US$10,000, which was awarded to the inventor of the SpaTap in Australia.
· Early stage (new and promising concepts) – which saw three prizes of US$2,000 each being awarded to inventors Joel Mukanga of Uganda, Felix Manyogote of Tanzania, and James Murphy of South Africa.
Applying their minds and scientific and engineering skills, gleaned in Africa as well as with major US and European high tech companies, the inventors of the MAJI 1200 saw it as their duty to use their abilities to benefit Africa’s people.
Their prize money will go towards the construction of MAJI 1200 units that will be donated to schools in far-flung areas of rural Zimbabwe. Bringing together the natural energy of the African sun and trends in modern water purification practice, the MAJI 1200 promises to bring first-world science and engineering knowledge about potable water to African water treatment, explains the 28-year-old Dr Muzangwa.
He adds that he spent his childhood in rural Zimbabwe, but now spends his time as a researcher in the areas of chemistry, physics, astro-chemistry and astro-biology.
“The MAJI 1200 system uses innovative ultraviolet (UV) light technology and solar energy to purify water, using technology that is becoming acceptable to public and regulatory agencies for use as an alternative disinfectant.”
“When municipalities install UV systems, the water supply is protected from chlorine-resistant micro-organisms. UV disinfection can also be used as a virus-barrier against Adenovirus – a major cause of respiratory problems and diarrhea – in a multi-barrier strategy to provide confidence in water supply.”
“While chemical disinfectants destroy or damage a microbe’s cellular structure, UV light inactivates microbes by damaging their DNA, thereby preventing the microbe’s ability to replicate (or infect the host). UV light does not impart tastes or odours to water as chlorine does, and does not form harmful disinfection by-products, or increase bacterial regrowth in distribution systems.”
“The MAJI 1200 can be used as a mobile or fixed water disinfection system. It can help communities in rural areas since it is solar powered, is relatively affordable to construct, and delivers high volumes of water. It is basically a maintenance-free system in which only the lamp and filter require replacement.”
Looking to the future of the system, Dr Muzangwa says that funding is required to set up an installation plant in Africa. A positive spin-off of this could be job opportunities with each installation being tended to and operated by people trained in its use.
With the present cost running at approximately US$2,000 per unit, funding to scale up production and conduct further research would be a bonus. To this end, active lobbying for donors, sponsors, NGOs, and governments is underway.
In the meantime, the MAJI 1200 inventors aren’t resting on their laurels. They are developing other systems that use generators and electricity as well as smaller purification systems.
“The MAJI 1200 is undoubtedly a most exciting project from Africa to emerge from the Water 4 Africa challenge. It is already attracting interest in Zimbabwe and Tanzania and has the potential to open access to healthy water for millions of Africans,” says Jayshree Naidoo, Innovation Thought Leader at Standard Bank.
“It is exactly the type of innovative contribution we were seeking when we sponsored Water 4 Africa, and sought global input in major areas of water conservation. These ranged from ensuring the sustainability of groundwater resources, sanitation, and purification of water including solar, through to filtration of water, as well as innovative solutions to promote wise water use.
“Harnessing the internet ensured that inventors and social entrepreneurs from across the globe could take part in helping solve a significant African problem. By using ‘crowd sourcing’, a powerful tool to gather innovative ideas and identify practical solutions to address the water issues, we ensured that collaboration around water saving projects could take place, regardless of geographical boundaries.”
“It was particularly encouraging to see that of the five winners announced across categories, four are from the African continent. It is great to see that Africans from all walks of life are involved in their communities and are intent on spending their time and talents to benefit others,” concludes Naidoo.
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